A lynching

April 02, 2004

THE MOB MURDER and subsequent desecration of the bodies of four American security guards in Fallujah on Wednesday was sickening and disheartening - disheartening because of the depths of the hatred it revealed. While the newly organized Iraqi police cowered out of sight, participants took as much fevered delight in the dismemberment of their victims as the Klan did in the worst days down South.

As of last night, the U.S. Marines had yet to make a show of force in Fallujah, but it's sure to happen soon. At best, they've been gathering intelligence that will enable them to make targeted strikes in the city; whatever happens, though, it's likely to be fairly blunt.

There isn't much choice about what to do. The incident shows that support for those who attack Americans is widespread in at least this part of the Sunni region, that this is not simply a matter of Baathist remnants or foreign terrorists. The population is against the U.S. occupation. The Marines will have to show as visibly as possible that killing Americans - or anyone else - carries consequences.

Giving up is out of the question. Iraq is now a very dangerous place - thanks to the war - not only to itself but to other nations. It would be criminally irresponsible to walk away.

That is, of course, highly unlikely to happen under this administration, or any that might replace it in November. Yet clinging to the fantasy of a domesticated, democratic Iraq anytime in the near future is almost equally irresponsible.

Americans are going to have to get used to having their soldiers - and attendant civilian contractors - facing danger in that far-away country. Expect parts of Iraq to resemble the West Bank under Israeli occupation for years to come - except that the territory is far bigger and the uniformed force that will patrol it is no larger. The level of anger seems to be about the same.

What about the Iraqi police, trained and equipped at U.S. expense? Consider what one cop told a reporter for the Associated Press on the outskirts of Fallujah yesterday: "Why should we interfere? It's none of our business."

Troops from other countries? Not likely; not now.

U.S. forces were driven out of Somalia after a similar incident there in 1993 led Americans to recoil in horror. We don't have that luxury this time.

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